When Michigan coach Mike McGuire began recruiting Andrea Parker for the cross-country team, he knew he would have no problem convincing her to come to Ann Arbor. Her older sister, Tracy, had run for him at Michigan until 1997, and he knew of Andrea since she was in 10th grade.
But Parker, now a fifth-year senior, was not sure that she even wanted to run in college. McGuire describes convincing Parker to join the team as being like “pulling teeth,” which is ironic for a runner he says is “as into (running) as anybody I’ve ever had.”
Eventually Parker did join, and she certainly hasn’t looked back, even though she has had occasion to.
In the summer prior to her first season on the team, Parker had both mono and tonsillitis, which resulted in a redshirt her first year.
She soon ran into far bigger problems. There was something wrong with her stomach, and the pain would hamper her in longer races. She wasn’t running the times she knew she was capable of.
So, in addition to the physical pain she experienced during a race, there was enormous mental frustration she experienced was enormous. She went to eight different doctors, and none could figure out what was wrong or offer a solution. But she didn’t quit.
“I had never quit anything in my life up to that point, and I certainly was not about to start doing it now,” Parker said. “I knew there were lots of other people who had experienced pain similar to this, and they had gotten through it, so I was determined to do the same. The thought of quitting never even entered my mind.”
McGuire attributes her perseverance to her competitive desire.
“She’s an extremely fierce competitor, which is why I think the stomach issues were so hard for her,” McGuire said. “One of the toughest things about it was that her results really weren’t mirroring her competitive spirit, or the effort that she was putting into her running and that she deserved to get out of it.”
Parker struggled through these problems for the first three years of her running career. McGuire felt her results were good — 17th at the Big Ten Championship as a sophomore and 152nd and 195th at the NCAA Championship in 2002 and 2003, respectively.But these results didn’t represent what everyone knew she could achieve.
Finally, she saw a doctor who figured out the problem — a circulatory-system disorder that prevented blood from reaching her abdomen — and prescribed her medication. The pills have worked brilliantly, and Parker, McGuire and the team could not be happier.
“This is by far my best season, and it almost makes it better that I had to struggle through adversity in order to achieve it because it just makes it that much more rewarding,” Parker said. “I feel great. I am running the way I want to run and I am really helping the team win.”
McGuire calls Parker a champion, and really admires the way she has pulled through adversity to become one of his top runners this year.
She finished ninth at the Big Ten Championship — 19 spots lower than in 2003 — and the team expects big things from her at this year’s NCAA Championship today in Terra Haute, Ind.
But McGuire isn’t surprised that Parker has been able to achieve these results.
“The sign of a champion is the type of person who can persevere through tough situations and extenuating circumstances — and Andrea really epitomizes that,” McGuire said.
For now, Parker is just enjoying her last season.
“It feels like I’ve really come full circle since my freshman year, and this year has just been the culmination of all the hard work that I’ve put into it since then,” Parker said. “I feel like a million bucks.”